I was 14 when I walked into the Mode o’ Day boutique and heard my Dad ask the sales clerk for girls’ underwear. Me – a 14 year old boy – my dad, and a sales clerk. Talking about girls underwear.
Awkward doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt.
There weren’t many places to shop for clothes in our little town. The Mode o’ Day was about it unless you wanted to drive clear to the other end of town. Of course you could always drive into the big city, or as we say it The City. That’s what people where I grew up call San Francisco – The City. But driving into The City to buy clothes meant paying for parking and we didn’t have much money just then.
My Mom had died earlier that year and my Dad was taking care of us kids. I was the youngest. That meant I got taken along on a lot of errands. Grocery shopping, taking the car in for a tune up, picking up my brother from the airport when he came home on leave from the Coast Guard. Whatever it was, I went along with Dad.
That’s why I was there when he asked for girls’ underwear at the Mode o’ Day.
Christmas was coming up and Dad was trying to find stocking stuffers. Our stockings always had some treats and some practical things. My sisters were apparently going to find underwear in their stockings on Christmas morning.
Ranch Hand to City Life
Dad grew up on a ranch outside Yakima, Washington. He worked cattle from the time he could ride, and kept working cattle through high school. He and another rancher competed in local rodeos, entering the team roping events.
Then bombs fell on Pearl Harbor and America went to war. He put in for early graduation from high school and joined the Army Air Force when he turned 18 just six days after Pearl Harbor. He served with the Flying Tigers in the interior of China, and that’s a far ways from Yakima. He rose through the ranks of the enlisted men and wound up with stripes on his sleeve, being assigned as Sergeant Major of his base by the time he was 21.
Dad came home after serving his final duty in the Aleutians immediately following the signing of the peace treaty. He once told me he did it to find out what it was like. He said he found out it was cold.
He settled in San Francisco – The City – and spent his bachelor days there for the next seven years, taking a job with an airline in their mechanics shop and then finding his talents needed in the office monitoring material specifications.
Then he married. My Dad and Mom met in a boarding house. Lots of boarding houses sprung up in San Francisco following the war, and some of the best were in the up-scale neighborhood of Pacific Heights.
Mom said she first became aware of Dad because his room was above hers and she heard him drop three shoes on their floor every night. Clunk! – one shoe. Clunk! – another shoe. But it didn’t stop there because she said there was always one more Clunk! She’d go to sleep wondering who it was up there who had three feet.
They finally met face to face and she saw he had two feet. He was also three inches shorter than Mom. She wasn’t extraordinarily tall. It’s just that he stood 5 foot 3 inches on his best day. They fell in love and got married, height differential notwithstanding.
Four kids came along, me last. Then Mom got sick. It started with headaches that wouldn’t go away. Eventually the symptoms were so bad they did x-rays. There was a tumor on her brain. After 18 months of surgeries and chemo-therapy and radiation therapy and long recoveries at the convalescent hospital and home, all of which repeated themselves without a break, she died. It was Easter Sunday.
So later that year Dad went Christmas shopping. He took me along. We walked into the Mode o’ Day and he asked for girls’ underwear. I wanted to hide behind a nearby clothes rack. I’m glad I didn’t.
This ranch hand, rodeo rider, airplane mechanic and war veteran showed me what it takes to be a manly man.
Manly men buy girls’ underwear.